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A StORY ABOUT A REAL MAN                                                                        3Q1
place. To make them more comfortable they had covered
the plank walls with cardboard and packing-paper. Still
hanging on the walls were pin-ups of movie stars with
rapacious mouths, and oleograph views of German towns.
The artillery battle raged on. The earth quaked. Dry
sand dribbled down the wallpaper, causing creepy, rust-
ling sounds, as if the dugout were teeming with vermin,
Meresyev and Petrov decided to sleep in the open on
their capes. The orders were to sleep fully dressed. Mere-
syev merely loosened the straps of his feet. He lay on his
back, gazing at the sky, which seemed to quiver in the
red flashes of the explosions. Petrov fell asleep at once,
and in his sleep he snored, mumbled, worked his jaws,
smacked his lips and curled up like a sleeping child. Me-
resyev covered him with his greatcoat. Realising that he
would not be able to sleep, he got up, shivering with cold,
performed several vigorous physical jerks to get warm
and sat down on a tree stump.
The artillery tempest blew over. Only now and again
a battery, here and there, reopened sporadic fire. Several
stray shells swept over and exploded somewhere in the
vicinity of the airfield. This so-called harassing fire usual-
ly did not disturb anybody. Alexei did not even turn his
head at the sound of the explosions; his gaze was directed
towards the fighting line. It was distinctly visible in the
darkness. Even now, at this late hour of the night, there
raged an intense, unrelaxing, heavy battle, which was
reflected on the sleeping earth by the red glare of im-
mense conflagrations that had flared up along the whole
horizon. Over it flashed the flickering lights of flares—
the bluish-phosphorous German ones, and the yellowish
ones shot into the sky by the Soviet troops. Here and
there a huge tongue of flame leaped up, lifting the air-
tain of darkness from the earth for an instant, and after
it came the heavy sigh of an explosion.
The drone of night bombers was heard and the entire
front became ornamented with the multicoloured beads of
tracer bullets. The shells of quick-firing anti-aircraft guns
shot up like drops of blood. Again me earth trembled,
moaned and groaned. The beetles that droned in tlie top®
of the birch-trees were not disturbed by this, however; deep
in the wood an owl hooted in a human voice, foreboding